In 1914, Henry Ford rocked the business world—and set the direction for the growth of the American Middle Class—when he announced that he would pay his factory workers $5 per day. This represented more than twice what Ford workers had been getting and it made headlines around the country. Similar, in fact, to the headlines generated when Amazon announced its new minimum wage of $15 an hour.
But a little math is in order. Ford’s $5 per day wage in 1914, adjusted for inflation, would represent about $126 in 2018 dollars. An 8-hour wage at Amazon, at $15 per hour, equals $120. And Ford workers’ paychecks 104 years ago weren’t further eroded by state and federal taxes, or “contributions” for health insurance. In other words, the average Ford factory worker in 1914 brought home more money than an Amazon employee working for $15 per hour in 2018. This is progress?
Jeff Bezos, like Henry Ford, is a remarkable business person who has shaped America with his innovations and use of technology. Both have shaped the American economy and business environment in their own ways. History will have to judge, however, which was better for the American Middle Class. My money’s still on Ford.